Fleece vs Down Insulation: Comparison and Differences

Fleece vs Down Insulation: Comparison and Differences

Despite summer’s approaching, if you looked outside you would not really be able to tell that that is the case (at least here).

It has been rainy and the temperatures low, giving the impression that autumn will soon be upon us. With that in mind, why not look at two different types of insulation to feel a bit cozier in this frankly unpleasant weather.

We have discussed about Down and Fleece in some of our previous comparisons and guides, and it is time to compare them together in order to see which would be the better insulation for you.

These are two very different materials, be it in composition or performance, and we are looking forward to learning more about each of them and see where their differences (and similarities!) lie.

Contents:

1. The Purpose of Insulation

Both fleece and down are used as insulation in jackets, but they are not similar at all in regards to how they are used for that purpose. We will look into this further down today’s piece.

However, our focus for this first part is in understanding what insulation is and why it is used.

Available in a number of different shapes, materials and performance levels, at its core insulation refers to the ability of a material to maintain the heat that is generated by the body when wearing a garment.

The way it works is by creating small air pockets in between the fabric or the clusters, in the case of down, which allow for the heat to get essentially trapped in these small air pockets, thus maintaining body heat at adequate levels as you move.

For that reason, insulation is primarily used in mid-layers, which are great for keeping you warm without being too hot.

Of course, insulation is used in jackets and winter coats, too. Down is the staple of jackets made for harsh winters, and fleece is a lighter insulating option for milder weather.

woman with parka jacket

2. Fleece

Man-made and derived from plastic, fleece is typically made of Polyester fibers with the purpose of mimicking wool fabrics.

Because it is made to resemble wool, it also performs similarly to wool. If you would like to learn more about the differences and similarities between fleece and wool, head on over here.

While our focus is primarily on the use of fleece in jackets, as a fabric, fleece is multi-purpose and used in a variety of different types of garments and other household products.

Characteristics of Fleece

Breathability:

We will start off with possibly the best quality of fleece as an insulating layer, which is its ability to wick moisture away, thus preventing overheating and preventing the clothing you are wearing from getting soaked in sweat.

It’s because of its ability to breathe well that fleece is considered to be great as a mid-layer. It provides adequate warmth without the feeling of clamminess from over-exerting yourself.

Low adsorption rate:

Polyester as a material is renowned for its low water adsorption quality. Rather than soaking up all of the moisture, like cotton does, for example, polyester allows it to move through the fibers without holding on to too much water.

It is because of this quality that polyester breathes that well, and likewise, fleece does too.

Quick-drying:

Fleece is one of the better options to be caught in rainy weather with, because despite its general lack of water-resistance, it dries quite quickly when it gets wet.

This is a great quality as it lowers the risk for hypothermia if the temperatures are low, and allows the wearer to remain dry for a longer period of time.

Lightweight and Affordable:

Compared to other similar fabrics, such as wool, fleece is considerably lighter, which is very useful for athletic wear as it adds barely any weight to the body.

Not all fleece fabrics are alike, however, and if you prefer a thicker fabric there are options available.

As for its affordability, fleece is one of the cheapest fabrics available, with a few exceptions of course. Generally, jackets, accessories and mid-layers made of fleece are very affordable, especially when compared to wool or, as we will see today, down products.

You might also like: The Best Fleece Jackets for Men and Women to Wear this Winter

3. Down

The insulation to go for when you live in areas that require heavy insulation, down is a natural material sourced from waterfowl such as ducks and geese.

It is used as padding in jackets, pillows, blankets and sleeping bags, as opposed to being used as a fabric. There is however, a recently developed type of down fabric by Thindown.

As an insulation, down’s ability to trap heat depends on its fill power and amount used in a product.

The fill power refers to the loft (fluffiness) of down. The higher the fill power, the better the ability of down to trap heat and insulate. We have elaborated on this when we discussed duck vs. goose down, which you can find here.

Characteristics of Down

Exceptional insulation:

Out of all the insulations that are used in winter garments and products, down is by far the best. While there are synthetic options available that are comparable to down, such as PrimaLoft or ThermoBall, down is still the best there is.

Its clusters create far more air pockets for air trapping, which is what makes it so great at keeping you warm.

Compressible and Shape-retaining:

Two other great qualities of down are its ability to compress into a very small size and its ability to return back to the original shape without any drawbacks.

For this reason, compressible down jackets are so popular among those who travel and are avid hikers and campers.

Breathable and Lightweight:

While the overall breathability of a down product will also depend on the fabric used, on its own down is quite breathable and suitable for a variety of outdoor activities.

Its very light weight is another quality that bears mentioning as it is what makes down products so cozy and comfortable to wear or use.

Long lasting:

When properly cared for, down is a very long lasting product. While it is, in fact, susceptible to mildew and mold if left in damp conditions, if the correct steps of care and maintenance are followed, and provided that the product itself is made of quality fabrics, a down jacket can last for many years.

If you are interested in learning the correct steps to care for a down jacket, we have this guide for you.

You might also like: The Best 700 Fill-Power Down Jackets for Men and Women

4. Comparison: Fleece vs. Down

Warmth

While it will depend on the build of the fleece fabric and down’s fill power, overall down is warmer than any other insulator available, fleece included.

For this reason, it’s best to look for a down product if you live in very cold areas and are not a fan of layering.

Weather-resistance

When it comes to weather-resistance, neither fleece, nor down fare too well. However, out of the two, fleece is slightly more resistant to water than down is and it dries much faster, too.

Something that bears mentioning here is that neither of these products insulate when wet. Down is notorious in this regard as this is its biggest flaw.

When wet, it loses all of its loft and thus there are no more air pockets available to trap heat, leaving you susceptible to the cold.

Durability

With proper care, as we mentioned previously, down has a good longevity and is durable overall. When compared to fleece, however, it falls behind.

Polyester fleece is really durable as a material and less susceptible to damage from chemicals. Because it is synthetic, it does not have issues with mold, either, unlike down left damp for too long.

Care and Maintenance

Once again, fleece’s synthetic nature makes it easier to care for. It is a product that does not really require much care overall and can be easily washed in the washing machine.

It does not take long to dry and it’s not prone to shrinking in its recommended washing temperature.

Down, on the other hand, can be a bit tricky to wash, as you can see from the guide we linked above. It requires certain steps to ensure not solely that it is properly cleaned, but also careful measures of ensuring that it will fully dry and return to its original loft.

white ducks on water

Price and Environmental Concerns

Down products, overall, are much more expensive than fleece products of similar categories and designs. The reason for that is quite simple, down is sourced from animals, whereas fleece is made from polyester, which is far more affordable.

When it comes to sustainability and environmental concerns, down is the better option for the environment because it is natural, whereas fleece is made of plastic.

However, down is sourced from ducks and geese, which raises ethical concerns.

5. Which One Is Better?

Overall, these are both good insulators, especially when it comes to mid-layers. However, which one is the better of the two will, of course, depend on what you are looking for.

If it is warmth, down is the better of the two. Down is also the better of the two if you are looking for a product that can last for many years and packs very easily.

Fleece is easier to care for and provides a wider range of prices. It is better for outdoor activities due to its ability to wick moisture away and its light weight.

With that being said, just looking at insulation alone, down is hands down the best option.

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